Sunday, November 24, 2013

"Evolution Day" celebrates Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species.

Lapham's Quarterly

On November 24, 1859, The Origin of the Species, Charles Darwin's revolutionary text on humans, animals, and everything in between, was published. Since many Darwin disciples informally refer to this date as Evolution Day (and celebrate accordingly), we thought it only right to pay close attention to the book that changed science forever.

Theme and Variation

1859: How strange it is that a bird, under the form of woodpecker, should have been created to prey on insects on the ground; that upland geese, which never or rarely swim, should have been created with webbed feet; that a thrush should have been created to dive and feed on subaquatic insects; and that a petrel should have been created with habits and structure fitting it for the life of an auk or grebe! And so on in endless other cases. But on the view of each species constantly trying to increase in number, with natural selection always ready to adapt the slowly varying descendants of each to any unoccupied or ill-occupied place in nature, these facts cease to be strange, or perhaps might even have been anticipated.

As natural selection acts by competition, it adapts the inhabitants of each country only in relation to the degree of perfection of their associates—so that we need feel no surprise at the inhabitants of any one country, although on the ordinary view supposed to have been specially created and adapted for that country, being beaten and supplanted by the naturalized productions from another land. Nor ought we to marvel if all the contrivances in nature be not, as far as we can judge, absolutely perfect, and if some of them be abhorrent to our ideas of fitness. We need not marvel at the sting of the bee causing the bee’s own death; at drones being produced in such vast numbers for one single act, with the great majority slaughtered by their sterile sisters; at the astonishing waste of pollen by our fir trees; at the instinctive hatred of the queen bee for her own fertile daughters; at ichneumonidae feeding within the live bodies of caterpillars; and at other such cases. The wonder indeed is, on the theory of natural selection, that more cases of the want of absolute perfection have not been observed.

Spring 2013

Charles Darwin, from The Origin of Species. At the age of twenty-two in 1831, Darwin set sail on the HMS Beagle on a voyage that lasted five years, during which time he found in the Brazilian rain forest “a chaos of delight,” watched the eruption of Mount Osorno, encountered iguanas and tortoises on the “frying hot” Galapagos Islands. Back in London around 1837, he wrote in his notebooks, “animals our fellow brethren in pain, disease, death & suffering…they may partake, from our origin in one common ancestor; we may all be netted together.”

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